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LIFESTYLES IN NEW YORK

By Ronald Silver

On going beta
Bill Gates as Big Brother

'I gave him, Mr. Gates, my hard-earned money. I did my part to make him the richest man in the world.'

What will it really look like when Big Brother takes over your life? All I can tell you is what it was like for me coming to the realization Big Brother is here, and he’s a pretty nice guy. As citizen, steering ones way down the path of day-to-day life with integrity, honesty, compassion, and bravery there are many opportunities to stray. If you stay on the path, or stray relatively close, you have no need to know what big brother looks like. You are a model citizen who never jaywalks, never files for a tax extension, and never seeks out bootleg copies of expensive software. In 1996, Windows 95 was being discussed a lot by anyone concerned with computer operating systems, all of them operating on the out-dated version of Windows, anxious for 95 to hit shelves. It was already a year late, and I was planning to buy it as soon as it came out. But I didn’t want to wait.

Fortunately I know big names in high places. I called my friend Adam Smith who worked for Intuit, who owns Quicken. That company was going through a soon-to-be-doomed merger attempt with Microsoft. Each company exchanged software so they could program new versions of their softwares to work together. Adam Smith was a senior something-or-other over there.
"Adam, can you get me a copy of the beta version of Windows 95?"
"No problem. Can you Fed-ex me a bud?"
"No problem."
I have always had the willingness to bend the rules. I stole a candy bar when I was six, was caught red-handed, and I lied to my mother until the bitter end when I had to go back into the drug store and tell the pharmacist that I stole from him. He looked at the packet of candy, crumpled from being in my guarded pocket, got down in my face with his clean shave and looked me right in the eye. He saw no fear.

When I received the bootleg copy of Windows 95 I tore open the package like it was Christmas. Seventeen or twenty floppy disks covered with Intuit post-its, all numbered with a quickly wielded Sharpie. Installing was going to be a long process. I gingerly grabbed disk #1, installation disk. Easy. I plugged it in to the A drive ready to type the command to install. An error message came up. Ouch.
I tried calling Adam, but he wasn’t around. I figured it must have been compressed, so I tried using the decompression software. Nada. I tried flipping the black-plastic tabs on the disk from lock to unlock and back. Boopkas. Then I began to rationalize calling tech support. Anyway, how much had I spent with Microsoft over the years? Thousands? It must be more than that. Let’s realistically call it twenty thousand dollars. I convinced myself that the company could help me out once just to install a bootleg copy of software I was going to buy as soon as I could. In fact, they owed me a solid.
The call was placed to Microsoft Technical Support at about two forty-four in the afternoon, I could tell you the date, but it was about two weeks before they released the software to the public. A very friendly, silky Seattle voice answered the phone: "Microsoft Technical Support. This is Miranda, may I help you?"
"Yes," I said, "may I have the Windows 95 Beta Version hotline?" I obviously knew what I was talking about.
"Yes sir, just one moment," she said in a way that made me feel good about holding on. I was contemplating the twenty-five dollar an hour fee they would probably charge me for extra-special technical support, figuring this would take no more than five minutes. I was fine with that. As I sat on hold the line went dead, I was cut off. I put my feet up on my desk, readying myself for a frustrating tech support experience, reminding myself of the great reward at the end, having Windows 95 installed on my computer, making it better, stronger and faster. I hit the redial button on the phone.
It rang once. "Microsoft Security," a very stern voice answered.
"Oh, pardon me," I said, "I was on hold with the Windows 95 Beta Hotline." I was official as I could be, speaking with authority like I was Adam Smith himself.
"Who is this and where did you get your copy of Windows 95?" the voice asked, out-authorizing me in an instant. I knew he had a badge and a hat. I trembled and slammed down the phone. Then I picked up the phone, ready to hit the redial. Seattle is a long way away; how much harm can they do to me here in New York City? I asked myself in confidence.

When I picked up, the phone-line was dead. I couldn’t believe it. I felt afraid. I walked out on my fire escape and smoked a joint. I thought a lot. I remembered the time I was caught stealing nuts when I was ten. An old lady called out, "There he goes," and there I went. I outran three teenagers in full-length green aprons, but when I rounded the corner I imagined the neighborhood surrounded with cops so I walked back and turned myself in. I’m not a good criminal. I waited ten minutes and picked up the phone again.

As soon as the receiver was at my ear there was loud digital sound, like a fax machine, and I imagined that Microsoft Security was extracting all of my information: my bad habits, my DNA structure, my credit report, my juvenile court records, my driving records, my dental records, my divorce papers and my topless bar report. I hung up the phone. When I picked it up a few minutes later I had a live line out. I was done calling Microsoft for help.

Needless to say, I ran out to purchase Windows 95 as soon as it hit the shelves. No need to fight the fact that I had lost that battle to an enemy too big to see, to powerful to fight. ‘Here’s my money. Mr. Gates. Take it. It’s like a tax that us smaller people pay up to stay up with the technological Joneses. I want to keep up. I don’t want any trouble. Please take my money.’ I came home to install my new precious software. Two hundred and fifty dollars wasn’t going to change my life, and with my new improved operating system, I would save time and money, somehow. I would have the dream-life, somehow. I was satisfied with my participation in the world of technology and in our bursting economy.

Before I ran up the five flights to my apartment for the installation, which would be a lot easier and faster since I bought the CD ROM version of Windows 95, I went to check the mail. Waiting in the mailbox was a cardboard tube from Microsoft. I opened it with curiosity, since it didn’t look like regular marketing material. I cut the tape and pulled off the top. Inside was a gray T-shirt, extra large, my size. The design was of a draftsman style, with a graphic feeling to it, thin lines drawn with precision, like a blueprint for a manufacturer. It was a drawing of an anvil, falling from the sky. You could tell that there was forceful speed built up, and underneath the shadow of the anvil was a cockroach crawling, unaware except for the shadow that he was about to be smashed. Somewhere in that design it read: Microsoft Windows 95. I still wear the shirt. But now my fears are gone.

I don’t know about you, but I think there is something comforting about a big brother that sends you a T-shirt. True enough I played his game. I gave him, Mr. Gates, my hard-earned money. I did my part to make him the richest man in the world. And my life is easier, especially with this new Windows 2000.


© Ronald Silver 2003
ron@bubbys.com

See also Ron's National Leadership Award

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